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Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Franchise on Crystal Balls

- Time to whip out the old crystal ball, and see what's in store for the racing franchise in New York State, where NYRA has now entered their final year.

January - A state judge rules that NYRA owns the land the tracks sit on, at least until their franchise expires at the end of the year. Thus, the association can use the land as collateral to obtain $50 million in loans. Furthermore, declaring that the state caused NYRA irreperable harm by wrongly preventing the sale of land parcels and artwork, the judge gives NYRA additional compensation, awarding it the parking lots taken by the Port Authority, the Empire Plaza in Albany, and former Governor Pataki's wife Libby.

February - As the scope of the FBI investigation of his business activities grows, and despite increasing calls from both parties to step down as Majority Leader, Sen. Joseph Bruno remains adamant in his refusal to do so. Whatsmore, in his continuing effort to be "up front," he acknowledges that he invested in Empire Racing upon its formation in October, 2005. When asked about the obvious conflict, Bruno responds that it's "too damn bad. What is Empire, a second-class citizen?"

March - NYRA's standing in Albany is improving since the land ruling, and lawmakers race to get on the bandwagon. Governor Spitzer hails NYRA's aggressive reform program as a central part of his ethics drive, and the state legislature unanimously declares March 15th to be Charlie Hayward Day. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle wait for hours for a chance to kiss up to the NYRA boss. NYRA spokesperson Libby Pataki announces that as a gesture of good will, it will lease Empire Plaza back to the state, though it will continue to display its artwork in The Egg.

April - Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, seeking consistency in his policy on owners having interests in casinos, rules that Steve Swindal may retain his involvement with the Yankees as long as he marries Marian Ilitch. A hasty ceremony is arranged in a Mormon church, but the issue becomes moot when the Yankees lose their first 18 games and George Steinbrenner fires Swindal as his son-in-law.

Capital Play Ltd, still on the outside looking in, increases its offer to $3 billion, and attempts to win over fans by handing out $100 bills to those heading into the Big A for the Wood Memorial Presented by Evident Technologies. On the same card, Discreet Cat makes a smashing 2007 debut in the Carter Handicap Presented by the Shinnecock Indian Nation, prompting the inexperienced new track announcer, Libby Pataki, to excitedly exclaim, "The Legend is back!"

May - In another victory for NYRA, a state judge chides former Gov. Pataki for his blatant delaying tactics that prevented the construction of the Aqueduct racino; she orders the State Lottery to immediately approve the agreement and green light the project. Ecstatic, Hayward immediately has slots installed in outdoor tents in the reclaimed parking lots, as well as in his living room and garage.

June - After non-stop round-the-clock construction, MGM Grand announces that it has completed the Aqueduct racino in a record 17 days, even before Dreaming of Anna's attempt to win the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes Presented by Magna Entertainment.

The doors to the racino open, and the money starts to flow. MGM Grand's controlling investor Kirk Kerkorian purchases the remaining outstanding shares of the company. He then exercises a clause in the racino contract so finely printed that the Lottery Division didn't see it during its two year inspection. Presidential candidate Pataki says, "YOU SEE!?" The language allows Kerkorian to purchase the deeds to the land the tracks sit on for $24. He thus claims control of NYRA and the three tracks, ousts Hayward, and immediately announces his intention to install slots at Empire Plaza, and in a lavish new racino smack in the middle of the Saratoga infield.

Outraged Saratoga residents immediately take to the streets and surround their sacred land, vowing to never leave. News reports claim that 21% of the population has been admitted to local hospitals with symptoms of shock. Marylou Whitney is said to be apoplectic, and quite literally speechless. Empire releases a blank press release in her name.

July - In a rare show of bipartisanship, Senator Hilary Clinton, flanked by leaders of both parties, announces that Kirk Kerkorian has been declared an enemy combatant and shipped to Guantanamo Bay. Charles Hayward is welcomed back with high fives and embraces, and poses for victory photos with the beaming trio of Pataki, Bruno, and Assembly Leader Sheldon Silver. In Saratoga, Hayward is honored with a ticker tape parade, and Broadway is renamed NYRA Place.

Capital Play Ltd returns with a newly sweetened offer, plus a promise from the Australian government to prevent Kylie Minogue and Men At Work from ever setting foot in this country again.

Saratoga - Its future is still uncertain, but NYRA, flush with cash from the wildly successful Aqueduct racino, is finally able to concentrate on what it does best - conduct the greatest race meet in the universe at Saratoga. A serene calm seems to descend upon the beleaguered town as the meet opens to large and enthusiastic crowds. The air seems just a little bit clearer, the leaves on the majestic oaks a bit greener. The horses seem to glide effortlessly over the Bill Nader training track in the perfectly clear and crisp mornings. The weather is sunny and 78 degrees every single day.

With slots money lifting the already lofty purses to unprecedented heights, the best stables in the country descend upon the Spa. NYRA buys Saratoga Harness and evicts the horsemen to make room for theirs. Overflow fields fill 11 races a day. All of the stars are there. The Arlington Million and Beverly D are cancelled because all of the top turf horses in the world are at Saratoga. Discreet Cat romps in an early allowance on the grass, just for the hell of it. Excitement builds when Dreaming of Anna's new trainer Libby Pataki announces that the filly will indeed try to avenge her defeat by Scat Daddy in the Belmont, and run against him in the Travers Stakes Presented by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In the climactic Woodward on the final weekend, Discreet Cat turns for home with a short lead. But Invasor is closing in, Lava Man is battling back along the inside, Nobiz Like Shobiz has room between horses, Premium Tap is gathering momemtum, Tiz Wonderful won't give up, Declan's Moon is in with a shot, and wow, isn't that Perfect Drift flying on the outside?

On the final day, Barbaro makes a stop on his way to the Southern Hemisphere for some shuttle stallion duty. He prances down the stretch as a packed crowd stands and cheers wildly. Even the people in the backyard area go up front and pay attention; some have to ask for directions. They all celebrate the spirit and courage of their favorite animals, embodied by the courageous 2006 Horse of the Year, miraculously back from the near-dead and full of life and vitality right before their very eyes. After the last race, thousands of teary-eyed fans refuse to leave; or maybe they're just unable to pull themselves away from a magical meeting they know they'll never experience quite the likes of again.

Empire issues a press release claiming that “NYRA’s rosy spin is betrayed by the facts," pointing out that attendance on Wednesdays was down 3% from 2002.

October - The euphoria of Saratoga yields as NYRA's fortunes starts to slide. Belmont settles into its usual October chill, and as more fans choose to catch the races from the comfort of the Big A Racino, the huge building seems as lifeless as ever. Empire issues press releases mocking the dwindling attendance every day.

Excelsior unleashes Howard Wolfson, who launches a vicious negative campaign against NYRA. The ads revive the emphasis on the association's past troubles with the law. ("Alan Hevesi called NYRA a poster boy for corruption. And he knows about corruption.") Charles Hayward is accused of once joking about wanting to fix a race. Bill Nader is said to have boarded a city bus that Sheldon Silver was on and offered him a bite of his sandwich. George Pataki is said to have once called 911 to complain that Libby hadn't showered in ten days. As the franchise race turned into the home stretch, NYRA was losing ground.

November - Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum enters the picture, offering not only to outbid all the players combined for the franchise, but to buy all of New York State, though with the specific exclusion of the cities of Buffalo and Poughkeepsie, the Daily Racing Form, Alex Rodriguez' contract, Jeanine Pirro, the Northway, the Knicks, Trump Tower, any person, place, horse, or thing employed or owned by Coolmore, a Jewish deli on lower Broadway whose corned beef wasn't lean enough for his tastes, around 100 unnamed people who he saw betting against Discreet Cat, and Woody Allen.

Capital Play respnds by offering to move the Melbourne Cup to Aqueduct. Empire says they will match any offer dollar for dollar, and unveils a litany of new investors in the form of hedge funds and investment banks. Excelsior promises to never conduct any dog racing in the state. Tensions are high as the final decision nears.

December - Governor Spitzer awards the franchise to Libby Pataki, noting that "she really seems to have taken to this." George Pataki denies that his wife's ownership of a casino is a conflict of interest to his presidential ambitions, and introduces, as his running mate, Marian Ilitch.

NYRA goes back to court to claim permanent ownership of the land. And the drama goes on into 2008 (and that is the only one of the abovementioned events which is almost certain to occur).


Green Mtn Punter said...

Hey, Alan! The Franchise on LSD, or The Franchise As Theater of the Absurd might be more like it! Had a quick read through and enjoyed it very much! Your pent-up frustrations with the whole process mirror mine.
Only thing I didn't notice in your predictions is the near certainty of an ownership claim for the Saratoga properties by the Mohawk tribe, and whichever tribe that sold Manhattan for $24 bucks to the Dutch to put in a claim for Aqueduct and Belmont! Great post and lots of fun to start the new year- what else can we do?!

Anonymous said...

This is much funnier and a touch more cerebral than Indian Charlie. Plus, some of this might actually be true.

davidrex said...

Oh Alan,
You been spendin way too much time at Aqu. with the rassties

Alan H. said...


Jim L said...


Have you checked out MEC's Santa Anita site compared to the GP one? They do it right on the west coast -- live webcam view of horses working out, live video, period.

The GP site is awful. The navigation is bad. No live video there. You would think they could have live video streamed from Payson Park, where many of the Derby starters will no doubt get some training time.

Did either of the two e-mail messages make it through to you? Sent them two days ago.

Hey, there is ONE, yes, ONE video podcast on iTunes of horse racing; the 2006 Belmont Stakes. No more Wire to Wire on ESPN. No GP on the OTB feeds in NY. What is the NTRA doing to promote this sport in a visual way?


alan said...

Jim -

Don't know why I'm not getting your messages. Try me at

And you're right about GP's website; it's freaking pitiful. It's even worse than in the past.

Anonymous said...

Wow, loved it!!!

Should sell this to Bloodhorse or another like mag.

Mr. Ed